Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

Rainbow on a full-moon night at Cumberland Falls (April 25, 2013). Photos by Joao (long-exposure image at about 11 pm-1am). The moon was very bright and had to rise above the creek so it could refract off the mist from the falls.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The national language debate

India is a very diverse country with people of different ethnicities, languages, religions etc. Finding ways to achieve national integrity is therefore a huge task, considering India supports individual freedom (to an extent, of course). One such crucial choice was a common language of communication. The choices were Hindi (the language spoken by majority of the Northern Indian communities) or English (the language of the colonizers). Even before Independence, the primary choice of reigning politicians was Hindi, which came under fire from the South, mostly Tamil Nadu. The state (under the leadership of the Dravidar Kazhagam, and later the DMK) was opposed to the creation of Hindi as the sole official language of the country and insisted on making English official as well. Plenty of agitations, fasts etc to this end, and it was only in the late 60s, with Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister, did the complete acceptance of English as an official language in addition to Hindi occur. This however created a mentality that the South hated Hindi (and the North as well), but in my opinion, the truth is far away from that.

Tamil people do not hate Hindi. We Tamils, in general, are very proud of our language and our culture. It is, in a form, our identity. Tamil is considered as one among the classical languages, with written literature dating back for more than 2000 years. Many of our texts and epics are older than the great Hindi/Sanskrit epics. The influence of our language can be seen in the neighboring states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh; the influence of Tamil reaches out further to Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, due to the early sea-faring traditions. In fact, inscriptions in Tamil that have been dated to times before Christ have been found in Thailand and Mauritius. We have cultural symbols that have stood for centuries, reminding us of our heritage.

We do understand that as part of a larger country, we would need to accept a more common language for communication. But the question was, why Hindi for that language? English was more useful in terms of a global perspective. With the first draft of the constitution, Hindi was the only official language, and was to be made compulsory in all schools across the nation. This led to the movement pushing for English to be included as an official language. And honestly, I thank those people for doing that; without that, our competing in the global space might have been pushed back a few more years. As a result of that movement, now, most government communications are in both English and Hindi.

Even now, contrary to popular perceptions, Hindi is not banned in Tamil Nadu. There are huge sections of Chennai, where people primarily communicate in Hindi. Most schools teach Hindi. However, the most important thing is that, we have a choice. We can choose to study Tamil, Hindi or English. Unlike many other states, we have not been forced to abandon our language in favor of commonality. I know there are plenty of people nationwide who learn just English and Hindi, while ignoring their mother tongues. Maybe they are okay with it - but we aren't.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A short history of nearly everything - Bill Bryson

An excerpt from Bill Bryson's introduction to the book - good stuff. 

Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn't easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.
To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you. It's an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. For the next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally underappreciated state known as existence.
Why atoms take this trouble is a bit of a puzzle. Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level. For all their devoted attention, your atoms don't actually care about you-indeed, don't even know that you are there. They don't even know that they are there. They are mindless particles, after all, and not even themselves alive. (It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.) Yet somehow for the period of your existence they will answer to a single overarching impulse: to keep you you.
The bad news is that atoms are fickle and their time of devotion is fleeting-fleeting indeed. Even a long human life adds up to only about 650,000 hours. And when that modest milestone flashes past, or at some other point thereabouts, for reasons unknown your atoms will shut you down, silently disassemble, and go off to be other things. And that's it for you.
Still, you may rejoice that it happens at all. Generally speaking in the universe it doesn't, so far as we can tell. This is decidedly odd because the atoms that so liberally and congenially flock together to form living things on Earth are exactly the same atoms that decline to do it elsewhere. Whatever else it may be, at the level of chemistry life is curiously mundane: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, a little calcium, a dash of sulfur, a light dusting of other very ordinary elements-nothing you wouldn't find in any ordinary drugstore-and that's all you need. The only thing special about the atoms that make you is that they make you. That is of course the miracle of life.
Whether or not atoms make life in other corners of the universe, they make plenty else; indeed, they make everything else. Without them there would be no water or air or rocks, no stars and planets, no distant gassy clouds or swirling nebulae or any of the other things that make the universe so usefully material. Atoms are so numerous and necessary that we easily overlook that they needn't actually exist at all. There is no law that requires the universe to fill itself with small particles of matter or to produce light and gravity and the other physical properties on which our existence hinges. There needn't actually be a universe at all. For the longest time there wasn't. There were no atoms and no universe for them to float about in. There was nothing-nothing at all anywhere.
So thank goodness for atoms. But the fact that you have atoms and that they assemble in such a willing manner is only part of what got you here. To be here now, alive in the twenty-first century and smart enough to know it, you also had to be the beneficiary of an extraordinary string of biological good fortune. Survival on Earth is a surprisingly tricky business. Of the billions and billions of species of living thing that have existed since the dawn of time, most-99.99 percent-are no longer around. Life on Earth, you see, is not only
brief but dismayingly tenuous. It is a curious feature of our existence that we come from a planet that is very good at promoting life but even better at extinguishing it.
The average species on Earth lasts for only about four million years, so if you wish to be around for billions of years, you must be as fickle as the atoms that made you. You must be prepared to change everything about yourself-shape, size, color, species affiliation, everything-and to do so repeatedly. That's much easier said than done, because the process of change is random. To get from "protoplasmal primordial atomic globule" (as the Gilbert and Sullivan song put it) to sentient upright modern human has required you to mutate new traits over and over in a precisely timely manner for an exceedingly long while. So at various periods over the last 3.8 billion years you have abhorred oxygen and then doted on it, grown fins and limbs and jaunty sails, laid eggs, flicked the air with a forked tongue, been sleek, been furry, lived underground, lived in trees, been as big as a deer and as small as a mouse, and a million things more. The tiniest deviation from any of these evolutionary shifts, and you might now be licking algae from cave walls or lolling walrus-like on some stony shore or disgorging air through a blowhole in the top of your head before diving sixty feet for a mouthful of delicious sandworms.
Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely-make that miraculously-fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result-eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly-in you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

பிரபஞ்ச காதல்

அவர்கள் பிரிந்திருந்த ஆறு மாதங்கள் 
வாடி, மனம் ஓய்ந்து,
வெள்ளை அணிந்து,
உறைந்தாள்  கன்னி .

அவன் வரும் நேரம் நெருங்குகிறது
அவள் காத்திருக்க, காதல் நினைவுகள் தூண்டி,
சோகம், கண்ணீர், மழை.
ஆனால், பொறுமையே வடிவானவலள்   அல்லவா அவள்
வெள்ளாடையை நீக்கி, நாணத்தில் விழி மறைத்து,
காத்திருந்தாள், கன்னி .

மூன்று மாதம், 
வெப்பத்தில் மிதந்தனர் காதலர்கள்.
பூட்டிவைத்த உணர்வுகள் வெடித்து,
வெப்பமும் புழுதியும் கலந்தன.
மெல்லிய காற்றின் ஆறுதலில்
வேர்வை தனணிய,
 துணைவியானால் காதலி. 

மென்மையான நாட்கள் பறந்தன...
அவனை பிரியும் நேரத்தை நினைத்து
பயம், துக்கம்.
ஆனால், அவள் கொண்டது
காலம் அரிக்காத பொறுமை அல்லவா...

கண்ணீருடன் அவனை வழியனுப்பிவிட்டு
உணர்வுகளை அமைதிசெய்ய,
சில மாதங்களில்,
மனம் ஓய்ந்து,
வெள்ளை அணிந்து,
எங்கள் அன்னை.
(edited by Dad)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The perfect murder...

There is no such thing as a perfect murder, at least, in the real world; you make a mistake... somewhere, or the other. That seems to be the underlying theme in the Hitchcock movies I have seen. I saw Dial M for Murder while traveling, and it was utterly awesome timepass. With the simplest of sets, this great man can have your attention like none other. I forgot I was traveling, I forgot I was in a narrow upper berth with no space to move... Grace Kelly was there, in her nightgown, in that train! phew.

The movie is basically about a tennis-player-turned-good-husband who wants to murder his previously philandering wife and inherit all her fortune. So, it starts with the guy scheming the murder, the actual event which goes all wrong, and the consequences. Pretty simple story with red herrings thrown in, a central clue, a detective that reminded me of Poirot... it was all there.

Hitchcock builds the suspense up with each sequence, in his characteristic manner. In my opinion, he does this primarily using music. The music seamlessly blends into the movie, and gets choppy or calm based on the sequence on play - the best part, you hardly notice it. But in its absence, would he still be able to create the same effect?

This movie is super, but it doesn't come close to Rear Window, the best I've seen of his so far. Right now, it stands 2nd between RW and North by Northwest. The problem with classy old movies is that, many new people make movies that are inspired, or at least, pay homage to them. Many of these new movies are plain kickass. I know it is not fair to compare, and they are giants in their own rights; but somehow, I can't help thinking how Lynch or Polanski would have done this movie :)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I got the blues, baby!

Chickkaago!! The biggest city I have ever been to so far, and this time around, I got to spend more time than the usual layover. It's not the friendliest city, but it more than makes up for it with its variety and its music...
my only regrets were that I still did not get to couchsurf, and as ever, I wish I had more time. It might be the windy city, but the days I was there, the universe was with me, in ways I couldn't imagine. It was warm with intermittent snow, beautiful Christmas weather. Things I had planned to do at the Indian consulate went by unbelievably smoothly, I was everywhere I wanted to be at the right times...
Anyway, I was staying at the Getaway Hostel which is plum in the middle of downtown (the picture is of the hostel, and the streaks are snow... I forgot to carry a camera, all I had was me phone). It's a good option if you are traveling alone (~ $30 gets a night in the dorm). Great connectivity to all places via CTA buses and trains. It really helps if you have a mobile phone with internet since google maps gets you the buses/trains you need to get to your destination, the nearest stopping, and the time-tables. I was walking through downtown almost the whole of Monday morning, and dropped in at the planetarium in the afternoon. The museums and attractions around Chicago normally let you in for free on one of the weekdays, you just need to find which one - the planetarium is free on Tuesdays.

The Adler planetarium has loads of galleries and fun stuff you can try out - there's even an astronomer who drops in to give a lecture/answer questions about the great beyond. CERN and it's mini black hole creating capacity was the rage with the crowd when I was there. Fyi, CERN has found out that it cannot create a mini black hole actually, which apparently is a blow to string theory. One of the cool tools I found in the gallery was a galaxy explorer where you get to zoom in and out of the stars. Pretty trippy. They  also have 3D shows, one of which I attended - now, I know how 3D actually works, why galaxies look the way they do, and even the purpose of life on earth. Yeah. The actual planetarium item that I wanted to see was the stars moving over my head like the way it used to back in Chennai. But, that was not working on the day I went. Bit of a letdown. They are renovating big on this place, and come summer, its sure to have some neat things to do.

The night was pretty as pie. It had to be seen to be loved. I knew then why people rave over snow during Christmas. Lights all around, light snow that reflects the light and plays with it, warm weather, squishy ground... you might not get was magical. So, I walked some more, and then went to a pub called the Kingston Mines. This place along with B.L.U.E.S bar makes the strip on Halsted quite famous. Blues alley it is called. The blues originated way down south in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia among the African Americans. The blues, as you may know, was the basis for rock'n roll and jazz; the blues itself originates from folk and gospel. As it came up north to Chicago, it got itself more "electrified," giving the Chicago blues a distinct sound. Oh, the sounds... Christmas and the blues go so well together... You should have been there, mi amore. The night I was at Kingston Mines, J.W Williams and his men took the little crowd that had gathered right up to heaven and showed us God - remember, I did say I found the meaning of life :) The blues, in my opinion, is best listened to live as part of an audience; recorded music just doesn't hit it. 3 hours was all I could afford in that place, since I had a flight early the next day. If I am in Chicago again, this is where my nights will be... and if I found a jazz strip as well, I might not get back home... cos baby tonight, I have me a date with heavunnn'!

You can listen to some live/recorded music at their site -
And of course, you can youtube the rest. It's worth it :)